Congress Needs to Pass Transportation Extention Bills

Sep 2, 2011

Yesterday, the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness hosted a listening and action session in Dallas, Texas for Council members, Administration officials, and business and union leaders to discuss with local businesses, stakeholders, and elected officials how the public and private sectors can partner to create opportunity and support job creation through infrastructure investment. Part of a series of regional sessions taking place around the country, yesterday’s meeting was the result of the president’s challenge that the Council bring new voices to the table and ensure that everyone can participate and inform its work and recommendations.

In keeping with preliminary recommendations from the Council, the president on Wednesday directed certain federal agencies to identify and expedite the permitting and decision-making process for high-priority transportation projects—projects that are already funded, and, with some focused attention, could get construction underway more quickly while still protecting safety, public health, and the environment. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), which together represent nearly 110,000 architects and general contractors, united on the eve of the Obama Administration’s major jobs initiative to urge the president and Congress to adopt measures to boost design and construction work. As Kermit Baker, the AIA’s chief economist notes, “the value of construction put in place each year equals between five and eight percent of annual GDP.”

The Chamber supports the president’s willingness to expedite the permitting process for high-priority projects, and urges this policy be extended to all projects, but that should not distract Congress from its first order of business upon returning next week— passing “clean” extensions of expired surface transportation and aviation legislation. If the July experience with the FAA bill taught us one thing it is that paychecks disappear when authorizations lapse. When times are tight, even a day without pay makes a difference.

Once Congress passes clean extensions, they must move to pass multi-year reauthorizations for core infrastructure programs—at current funding levels. After four years and 21 extensions, it’s past time to finish the FAA bill. SAFETEA-LU legislation must both reform surface transportation policy and programs and provide the necessary resources to supplement user fee revenues to the Highway Trust Fund. The Water Resources Development Act, critical for maintenance of locks, dams, and levees, should not only ensure the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is used for its intended purpose, but should also leverage private activity bonds for clean and safe drinking water, thereby boosting private investment.

Dr. Matthew Slaughter, economic advisor to the Organization for International Investment (OFII) and former member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, penned an op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the crucial connection between potholes and U.S. jobs. The piece was timed to run the same day as the session in Dallas and is part of OFII’s campaign aimed at strengthening America’s infrastructure to enhance U.S. competitiveness and attract foreign direct investment.

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